In light of the Iranian regime's increasing political repression in advance of the elections for the Majlis and Assembly of Experts that are set for February 26, 2016, and in light of the mass disqualification of thousands of candidates from the pragmatic and reformist streams, Expediency Council head and pragmatic camp leader Hashemi Rafsanjani harshly criticized the regime, saying that it is trying to force its own candidates on the people instead of allowing truly free, democratic elections.
In an address to activists from parties banned by the regime, filmed sometime in November or December 2015 and posted in late January 2016 on his website (see MEMRI TV Clip No. 5298, Rafsanjani Protests against the Regime's Oppression of Its Citizens), Rafsanjani included a warning about the regime's ideological circles' intention to force their candidates on the public. He protested against the suppression of freedom of expression among university students and against the outlawing of political parties, and warned the ruling establishment that its actions were distancing the people from their loyalty to the Islamic Revolution.
Responding to Rafsanjani's harsh criticism and his warnings, on February 2, 2016, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, at a meeting with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, instructed the council and the other regime apparatuses to oppose Rafsanjani's pragmatic stream: "Since the victory of the [Islamic] Revolution, some have not agreed with the revolutionary thought, and others, even though they were within the regime [hinting at Rafsanjani and his supporters] did not believe in fighting the arrogance [i.e. the U.S.] This stream must be opposed."
The next day, Rafsanjani released his "recommendations for media personnel," at a meeting with members of the media, demanding that they act professionally and reflect reality in their work and to stand fast, in the Internet era, with the politically and civilly oppressed in Iranian society, in the spirit of moral values and justice. At the meeting, he discussed important political crossroads in Iran's revolutionary history, when he stood side by side with the Revolution's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He said that it was he who had offered to take responsibility for the way in which the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was ended, and to even stand trial for it. He complained about ideological stream's political harassment and character assassination against him ever since, hinting at Khamenei himself and other regime figures, during the 2009 Green Movement protests, and, especially, at this time. He explained that since the moment he realized that some of his partners in the Islamic Revolution - hinting again at Khamenei - had deviated from the revolutionary path and become "heretics," he had withdrawn his spiritual support of them.
Prior to Rafsanjani's February 4 address to media personnel, and in response to his public criticism of the regime, particularly his criticism of the disqualification of thousands of candidates from the pragmatic and reformist streams, rage at Rafsanjani in the ideological camp is growing. On February 1, 2016, Majlis member Hamid Resaei said that he was "deviating from the path" of the Islamic Revolution, "corrupt," and "spreading rumors and lies." The next day, Abdallah Haji Sadeghi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's deputy representative in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said that Rafsanjani's "behavior is like that of the enemies." On February 4, Assembly of Experts member Hassan Mamdouhi said that he hoped that Rafsanjani's statements would not create "a new fitna," i.e. civil unrest, and warned him that the people would stand fast against any fitna; Mojtaba Zolnour, advisor to Khamenei's representative in the IRGC, said that not even the enemies of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ever made statements like Rafsanjani's and noted that it was time for him to join his son in prison.
The following are highlights of Rafsanjani's statements to political activists on January 23, and statements from his meeting with members of the media on February 4:
Rafsanjani's January 23, 2016 Statements: The Islamic Regime Should Give The People Freedom - Not Force Them, Threaten Them, Or Restrict Them.
At the meeting with the activists from banned political parties, Rafsanjani warned that political indifference could develop among the public, leading to a boycott of the elections, and hinted that such a situation would generate civil unrest. He praised the people's democratic vote in the 2013 elections that brought President Hassan Rohani to power, praised also Iran's nuclear achievements vis-├á-vis the U.S., and called for the regime to allow the people to freely elect its representatives this time as well.
The following are highlights of Rafsanjani's statements, from the video released on his website on January 23, 2016:
"We expect a significant presence of our university [students] in politics, in the elections, in [state] administration, and in social progress. However, [the students] are oppressed [by the regime], and this is very bad. Young Muslims are studying, and most of them acquire an education at their own expense. At the very least, they should be allowed the freedom to express their opinions. Are they inferior to those in the religious movements who express their opinion? These people too are good - I am not condemning them. [The students] also mourn the death of Hussein, and adhere to Ahl Al-Bayt... But why aren't the students [entitled to freedom of expression as well]? They are educated young people, and they actually know more [than the students of religion]. This is an inexcusable move.
"The security of our Iran emanates from the people. The people are still loyal to the Revolution, but we must understand - that is, the decision-makers who are making the wrong decisions must understand - that if the people, especially the young and the educated, become apathetic and indifferent, the security [of our society] will not remain as it is today... The indifference of the people is a grave danger.
"How do people become apathetic? One [reason] is the elections. If they realize that a choice is being imposed on them in the elections, then they obviously will not [turn out to vote]. Ever since our first elections, all our referenda over the years have been free, and the vast majority of the people participated in them, with a turnout of 99%, [declining] to 60%-70%. We always had [a high turnout], but [political parties] that were recently formed in the country have been denied permission to be active in the elections. They can only vote. Over time this can generate indifference in the country. Who gave us the authority to interfere with the destiny of the people? We were all born free, and nobody can tell us what to think. They can only guide us. Did the Prophet [Muhammad] force anyone [to do anything]? The Koran explicitly states, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion [2:256]'...
"We have come this far because of our unity - how will we go on if we are divided?! The ugliest deeds that I see are the fashion [among] 'the concerned' [referring to the ideological stream] who stand against the tremendous work carried out humbly and modestly by the [Rohani] government [referring to the JCPOA], under pressure and denigration. This was no small feat - facing down the world's great superpowers. Six powerful countries that enjoy extensive intelligence and diplomatic support sat [at the negotiating table] across from our foreign minister [Zarif] and his team. [But] we managed to advance our path. [All the while,] they [the ideological camp] said, constantly and every day, that it would not succeed. The next day they said [again] that it would not succeed. You see for yourselves what the newspapers of the 'concerned' are doing - [they] are still writing that it will not succeed. In any case, this was not a task that could possibly be carried out by a government under pressure. Indeed, this government entered the arena intensively, showed patience, and toiled devotedly. [This government] gave its all, despite [its critics'] mockery and ridicule - and it finished the job.
"Where did this government come from? From the people's votes and elections. Had [the people] followed the usual path [of the ideological conservatives] in the 2013 elections, things would not have happened like this. But ultimately, the people arrived [on the scene, that is, they turned out to vote].
"[In the 2013 presidential elections,] all I did was register [as a presidential candidate]; I didn't campaign or anything. When I went to register, they asked me, What is your platform? I responded: I will publish my platform later... If I am [a candidate] - I will publish it. I have always said: Let this path go forward, so that I can publish [my platform]. I said nothing, and did not campaign at all.
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"But then came a tsunami [from the public], and everyone realized that the people wanted something different. This [pragmatic] stream was unacceptable to [the ideological conservatives]; they thought that they resolved this matter [by disqualifying me], but things did not work out [for them]. The people stood fast, and elected Dr. Rohani... All this belongs to the people [that said]: Most of us are coming [to vote]; we are saying, We are here. It is the people that decides.
"Look, for example, I am talking about the media. In that  election [campaign], the leader [Khamenei] said that the votes of the people are a right that cannot be taken from them. [But] how many [television] programs on this right of the people did the [state] broadcasting authority [air] - and how many did you see? What about televised [candidate] debates and interviews?
"On the other hand, when the leader [Khamenei] uttered a single word - 'infiltration' [of U.S. influence into Iran] - they [the ideological media outlets] filled the entire world with articles and talk, and even threats, intimidation, and accusations. That does not fool the people - they [i.e. the ideological stream] fool only themselves... But the people understand.
"The people are educated. They analyze [the situation]... I think that the Islamic regime should give the people freedom - not force them, threaten them, or restrict them. I will read to you some of the dictates of the Imam [Khomeini], so that you can see his explanation about how the people should be allowed to handle their own affairs. [He said] that there should be no eavesdropping and no false slander. [He said:] Do not humiliate the people, do not take their honor lightly, and respect the rights of the people. The Imam [Khomeini] always said these things, extensively. So I think that the elections that we are facing are very important."
Rafsanjani's February 4, 2016 Statements To Media Members: Give The People An Accurate Report On Reality And Oppression
At his February 4 meeting with members of the media, Rafsanjani said: "Conveying information increases personal and collective knowledge in society. Online activists... must pay attention to the truth of the information conveyed and must publish actual information, because their news circulates rapidly in society... You should proceed with [reporting] reality according to the Islamic religion, human morality, and the Iranian character."
Explaining the political attacks on him, he said: "When we noticed that some of the young people [hinting at Khamenei] who were our partners in the revolutionary struggle became heretic... we withdrew our spiritual and financial support of them, and that is the point where the political destruction and inhuman insults against me began, which continue to this day. Of course, this takes different shapes and forms; the intensity and weakness and also the nature of those who are trying to destroy me changes according to the sense of threat that they sense [from me] in society...
"I am still bound to the same [revolutionary] beliefs, and my political opponents are making efforts in their own path [to ruin me]. It is my reliance on God and my hope for a good outcome that give me patience..."
Speaking about his experiences in prison prior to the Islamic Revolution, he noted that his faith in the Koran had sustained him. He stressed that the Koran had given him patience as he faced political attacks and character assassination, saying: "I learned from gentle Koran to greet the public despite insults and destruction, and I learned from the dear Imam [Khomeini], who experienced such insults and destruction also. I learned that we must be patient in the path to defend Islam and to adhere to path we believe in."
Referring to Iran's acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 598 that ended the Iran-Iraq war, he said: "When we saw Saddam's crimes in Halabja in Iraq, and in Piranshahr and Sardasht in Iran, we were concerned lest this criminal repeat these crimes with the missiles that he obtained, [by attacking] one of Iran's cities such as Tehran. For this reason, after a full-scale examination of the conditions in one of the meetings with Imam [Khomeini], at which the heads of the regime were also present, it was decided to end the war. Imam [Khomeini] talked about his own previous statements, i.e. 'war till we capture Qods [i.e. Jerusalem], 'war until our last breath,' 'war till the last drop of blood.' I told him, With your permission, as your successor in the armed forces and the war commander, I will announce the acceptance of Resolution , and when that is done you can prosecute me, so that more Iranians and Iraqis will not be killed...
"After I said that, [Khomeini] was quiet for few minutes, and then he said, This is not good either [i.e. that you shoulder the blame]... He wrote the famous letter [accepting the resolution] and from that day on the issue of ending the war was added to the issues cited by those who seek to destroy me... After the war, and at the start of the reconstruction era [I was president and worked to eliminate the black market], some other groups of those who seek to destroy me joined the aforementioned group [who blamed him for Resolution 598], and when the political issues of [the student protests in Tehran in] 1999, 2006, and [the civil unrest following the presidential elections in] 2009 took place, my critics and opponents said, and did, whatever they wanted with all their might, and you also see now that defending Khomeini's followers became a pretext for those who zealously claim to be followers of the Imam's path. Over 60 years of [my] political activity, we have seen these types of issues and statements many times and we will see them again..."
Noting that the elections honor Islam and the Islamic Revolution, he said: "You, who are involved in the media and Internet, have, due to the increase in technology, better access to [technological] information sources and the knowhow to use them, and you must pay attention to support the people in any situation... God has given humans the wisdom and intelligence to make decisions and to accomplish tasks based on these, and it is apparent that wisdom is incompatible with extremism and profligacy. That is why the moderates are considered to be the wise men of society..."
He concluded by turning to the young activists in the media and online, saying: "Be sincere with the people and pledge to God that you will tell society what you understand. Be careful not to violate anyone's rights and do not be cruel to others. God commands you to fear the complaint of the defenseless oppressed who have no supporter but God. The greatest weapon of the oppressed is their complaint."
Noting the eternal presence of memory, of the Imam Hossein, and of the Ashura martyrs against the tyrants, he said: "The events of the Ashura took place in a remote desert before any media even existed. But people still greet the Imam Hossein and distance themselves from Yazid and the Yazidis, who are a symbol of cruelty and tyranny."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6282, Iranian Pragmatic Camp Leaders Protest Against Regime's Mass Disqualification Of Thousands Of Pragmatic Camp Candidates For February 2016 Majlis Elections, January 28, 2016.
 Farsi.khamenei.ir/news, February 3, 2016.
 The Kayhan daily, the mouthpiece of the ideological camp, said that Rafsanjani was responsible for the disqualification of Hassan Khomeini, the reformist grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had run for the Assembly of Experts at Rafsanjani's urging; the accusation was in response to Rafsanjani's harsh criticism of the Guardian Council which disqualified Khomeini. Kayhan, Iran, February 2, 2016.
 Ilna.ir (Iran), February 1, 2016.
 Digarban.com, February 2, 2016.
 Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2016.
 Sahamnews.org, February 3, 2016.
 A term referring to the descendants of 'Ali and the successors of Shi'a Islam.
 Hashemirafsanjani.ir, January 23, 2016.
 Hashemirafsanjani.ir, February 4, 2016.